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American Voices: Baltimore's Little Italy Open-Air Film Festival Draws Thousands Every Week

Aired September 29, 2000 - 1:24 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: A legendary Chicago movie theater is closed. Gangster John Dillinger, you may know, died outside this Biograph Theater in 1934 after watching a Clark Gable film, entitled "Manhattan Melodrama." Dillinger was gunned down by G-men, but the Biograph was the victim of revenue agents. They say the chain that owns the theater is behind in its taxes. It's unclear when or if the theater will reopen.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, before the era of multi-screen movie complexes, which, of course, is what we have today, small theaters, like the Biograph, helped give neighborhoods a sense of identity. Families would get together and meet other families at the movies.

WATERS: Well, what a wonderful idea. Now, an Italian neighborhood in Baltimore, get this, trying to revive that in a big way.

Here's CNN's videographer Tim Wall taking us to the show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN PENTE: My name is John Pente. This is what they call Little Italy, Baltimore, Maryland, and it's one of the nicest neighborhood you can think of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And welcome to week 15 of the second annual Little Italy Open-Air Film Festival. Tonight, we are proud to present a delightful Academy Award-winning film from 1953, "Roman Holiday."

PENTE: Everybody likes their favorite spot. They all want a favorite spot. Some don't want to be near the pool and some like to be on the outside where the visibility is great.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Father, I'm no where near 86 and I could never remember all of that.

MARY ANN CRICCHIO: My name is Mary Anne Cricchio. And the first night we didn't publicize it at all. We just had a few neighbors come out. So, we had 130 people, and then, by the end of the 12-week run, "Fortune Mataviso," (ph) our ending film, we had over 4,000 people.

PENTE: She's the one that really started because she went to Sicily and she knows the area and she has seen it over there. And we're having a ball. It's real nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And last on tonight's list of thank yous, but certainly not least, a heartfelt thanks from all of us who enjoy these unique alfresco film presentations, to Mr. John Pente, the beloved mayor of Little Italy, for, once again, so graciously, allowing to convert Mr. John's third-floor room with a view into a fully equipped professional 16-millimeter film projection booth for 18 weeks. So, thanks again, Mr. John, we could not do it without you.

CRICCHIO: His daughter has told me that she thinks it's put a few more years on his life and he really looks forward to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her royal highness.

TOM KIELFABER, SENATOR THEATER: I hear remarks all the time that now you see the generations all back here. Essentially, this had become more of a restaurant district and a lot of the -- the school had closed and these younger families had moved out to the suburbs. And now, they all come together on Friday evening. And they bring their kids with them and it's, sort of, like a weekly family reunion here in Little Italy.

CRICCHIO: They like to have this piazza feeling, where they meet in the evenings and it ended up on the front page of "The New York Times." And once it was on the front of "The New York Times," it just -- it took off.

We've had Brazil, Italy, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Germany. We've been dubbed in every language and it's very exciting for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finito, it's perfect. You'd be nice without long hair. Now it's cool.

PENTE: We have one restaurant, which is Vaccaro's, and they have all the Italian cookies and stuff. And they have to have something to eat to go with the show. Whether you bring a bottle or something to eat or an ice cream cone.

CRICCHIO: What's missing from American lives are that people do not socialize with other people anymore. You know, you can rent the movies, you can stay in your house, and you can watch them alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would they say if they knew I'd spent the night in your room?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I tell you what, you don't tell your folks and I won't tell mine.

CRICCHIO: But, when you look up at that window, and for the very first time, you see that ray of light come out, and the image go up on the movie screen, it's so hard for me to explain to you in words how it makes you feel.

PENTE: This is the greatest thing that could have happened in our neighborhood in Little Italy. We have the nicest neighborhood here. We want to keep it nice. And it's making a lot of people happy. And it's good for the neighborhood. We love every bit of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to leave you now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for coming to this evening's presentation of "Roman Holiday."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Well, very nice.

WATERS: That's wonderful. That's great.

ALLEN: The festival concludes tonight with an appropriate film: "Cinema Paradiso."

And again, we thank our Tim Wall for going out and getting that story for us.

WATERS: Like the old neighborhood, only bigger.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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